Since 2012, I have had the privilege to work on the City of London’s Advisory Committee on the Environment (ACE), including serving two terms as chair. The committee provides input, advice, and makes recommendations to City Council on environmental matters such as waste diversion, climate change, water quality, and impacts on the natural environment.
Aside from firsthand experience with how thing get done at City Hall, working with fellow citizens on ACE has given me the opportunity to put forward ideas for improving our city’s environmental performance with my committee colleagues. One of these proposals that we have been working on has much promise and deserves implementation: a Property Assessment for Clean Energy (PACE) program.
Here’s how it works: property owners make energy improvements to their homes or buildings. This may include installing high-efficiency furnaces and water heaters, replacement (for vinyl) and repairs (for wooden) to windows and doors, renewable heating such as solar thermal and geothermal, solar electricity, grey-water recovery systems, and other energy- or water-saving technologies. Rather than paying the cost of these improvements up front, property owners would pay for them over several years in installments added to their property tax assessment, using the Local Improvement Charge (LIC) provisions.
There are several benefits. By making our houses more energy efficient, we reduce carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change. Property owners who participate save money on utility bills, since they are using less energy. The money they save goes toward paying the loan back, and what remains left over can be spent in the local economy.
Energy improvements are beneficial, and they can have high upfront costs. A PACE program will put these kinds of improvements within reach for families with a wider range of incomes, allowing them to save money and lower their carbon footprint as well.
Another upside to PACE is that even if a family plans to sell their home within a few years, energy improvements still make sense. The new furnace, windows, insulation, or other improvements stay with the home and continue generating savings for the new owner. The cost also stays with the property, and the new owners who are seeing the benefits of a more energy-efficient home continue to pay for the improvements on their property tax assessment until they are paid for.
The other part of this win-win-win situation is economic stimulus. There will be many local jobs created for the vendors and installers of qualifying equipment, which means the money being spent by property owners will go to companies in London to employ workers living in the city. It would also be revenue neutral for the City of London, and could be done in conjunction with some of London Hydro’s existing promotions.
The City of London has been working with a number of other Ontario municipalities to make a framework for cities to follow. Toronto has a successful program called Home Energy Loan Program, or HELP, that could be easily adapted across the province – including here in London.
I have championed a PACE program at the Advisory Committee on the Environment and will continue to do so on City Council. It makes sense to provide Londoners with easier ways to improve energy efficiency at their homes and businesses, and to create a stable environment for employment in this sector. We can help people save money, create jobs, and make London an environmental leader at all at the same time.